Kynse Agles and NicQue Mayhew spent their earliest years in Tazewell County, just 10 miles apart but to the best of their knowledge never crossing paths.
But that has forever changed in Florida for Agles, 37, and Mayhew, 36. A lost part of Mayhew is now a permanent part of Agles. A hurricane, horror and happenstance provided a dramatic backdrop for a bittersweet story that has garnered a growing international audience.
The first act began when Agles used a creative and sexy social media post to help her recover from Hurricane Irma and a double organ transplant. The second act followed with Mayhew learning her teenage son’s death had given Agles life.
A third act has just begun, with the two single moms exploring their new, permanent bond as friends and relatives in central Illinois cheer them on as survivors.
“It’s awesome and amazing,” Agles says. “I feel like I’ve known her family my whole life.”
Adds Mayhew, “It’s just crazy how things worked out. We’re now considered each other’s family.”
Agles was born in Morton, where she spent the first 10 years of her life. When her parents divorced, she moved with her mom to Arizona. As an adult, she relocated to Fort Myers, Fla., where she lives with her 8-year-old son.
Agles knows how to sell, which is good for her livelihood: She owns a realty firm and oversees 20 agents. But the skill is also good for her health.
As fellow Floridians recently endured the onslaught of Hurricane Irma, she fought her own battle inside a hospital.
A diabetic, Agles was diagnosed a year ago with stage 5 kidney failure. She was told she’d have to begin dialysis unless she were to get a new kidney and pancreas. Put on an organ-donor list, she waited and waited until finally getting the call Aug. 31.
After surgery, she was recovering in a Tampa hospital when Irma slammed Florida on Sept. 8. Nine days later, she went home to find her residence, like many in Florida, still had no power. That meant no air conditioning and no vacuuming, which didn’t bode well for at-home recovery.
“You have to live in a very germ-free, sanitary environment, which is hard to do without electricity,” Agles says.
So, she cooked up a plucky plan.
Grabbing leftover pink spray paint and a panel of plywood, she scrawled a crude sign: “Hot single female seeks sexy lineman to electrify her life.” Clad in a tank top and short-shorts, she stood next to the sign as a friend snapped a photo, which Agles posted on Facebook.
The photo soon grabbed a lot of attention, including the eyes of two utility workers from Pennsylvania helping with hurricane recovery. A day after the posting, electricity was restored to her place.
She posted on Facebook, “It worked, everybody!” Another post soon shouted, “Wahooooo! Thank you to the linemen!”
Meantime, her ingenuity went viral on Facebook, where the post was shared more than 2,000 times and earned more than 600 comments. Then her story got picked up by newspapers and TV stations in Florida, then by People magazine, the New York Post and other media nationwide, then even the British press.
But as Agles, her family and friends rejoiced, another family was heartbroken.
Mayhew was born and raised in Pekin, where she attended high school before moving to Peoria. Eventually, she relocated to Florida, where she gave birth to son Elijah in 2002. Married and divorced, the single mom of three made their home in Pinellas Park, Fla.
She recalls Elijah as kind and considerate.
“My son would give you the shirt off his back,” she says.
She recounted a day in his ninth year, as he watched a children’s softball team coached by his mom. He noticed a smaller girl shivering in unexpectedly cool weather, so he took off his sweater and gave it to her.
“That’s just who he was,” his mom says. “He would do something for someone, even if he didn’t know them.”
On Aug. 28, Elijah was rushed from home to a hospital after suffering a gunshot wound. News reports described the shooting as “unintentional” and “self-inflicted.” (For this story, his mom declines to discuss the shooting, on the advice of police still conducting an investigation.)
As Elijah lay in the hospital, hooked up to life support, his mom knew his time was short when she was approached by an organ donation team. Would she allow Elijah to give the gift of life to others?
She thought about a conversation just weeks earlier, as one of her daughters was filling out her driving permit. When she came to a question about organ donation, the family discussed the matter. To his mom, Elijah said of himself, “They can have whatever they need.”
In the hospital, his mom talked to her ex-husband and Elijah’s sisters about donating his organs. They all agreed to move forward with that plan.
“We had to do that, for him,” his mother says. “Elijah got to be a hero.”
After his death, the organ donation team told the teen’s mom that eight organs were transplanted among six people. By protocol, the hospital would wait six weeks before connecting the recipients, to see if they would agree to meet the donor’s family as requested by Elijah’s mom.
In Agles' case, though, both families started detective work soon after her Facebook post went viral. They began connecting dates and dots, especially after Agles donated to a Go Fund Me page set up to help pay the costs of Elijah’s funeral. The two Tazewell County natives traded messages, confirming the organ-transplant connection.
Mayhew wrote, “Thank you for the donation that you made to my family.” Agles replied, “Your son is my family’s hero.”
In early October, the two moms met at a Florida coffee shop, tears flowing. As Mayhew embraced Agles, she felt an onrush of both grief and joy.
“There were mixed feelings, because we’d just lost Elijah,” she says. “It’s still very fresh. I can still hear Elijah telling me good morning every day. We haven’t processed his leaving yet. So, it (meeting Agles) was scary but happy at the same time. He’s not coming back, but he’s still living. He’s in other people.”
Adds Agles, “I think it gives them a little more hope and a little more positive outcome in a sad, sad situation.”
On Oct. 8 in Florida, Elijah’s survivors hosted a celebration of life at a public park, inviting Agles and her son. Agles spent hours getting to know Elijah’s relatives.
“Just as I’ve accepted them into my family, they've accepted me into their family,” Agles says.
Elijah’s kin especially felt uplifted in knowing that Agles has become a crusader for organ donation. Her Facebook posts have generated tens of thousands of views, prompting at least 1,000 people to sign up for organ donation, she says. But she is driven to continue the cause in knowing that 20 people a day die in America for a lack of donor organs. https://organdonor.gov/statistics-stories/statistics.html#glance
“My crazy little sign has made me able to describe the need for organ donation,” Agles says.
And her continued campaign — impossible without the gift from Elijah — gives his mother a sense of peace and promise.
“Every life Elijah saved is a ripple,” his mom says. “You know how when you throw a rock into water and it makes a ripple? All those lives are ripples.
“But Kynse is so big with the organ donor movement, she’s not just a ripple. She’s a tidal wave.”
PHIL LUCIANO is a Journal Star columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com, facebook.com/philluciano and (309) 686-3155. Follow him on Twitter.com/LucianoPhil.